TANSTAAFL

For those who may not know, the title of this post is an abbreviation for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch“.  Case in point:

Back in August, Roomie and I were solicited for and attended a sales presentation for a travel/vacation ownership program.  We were offered a free 7-day cruise for two, and two free CONUS airline tickets for our time.  Roomie loves to travel, and I am OK with an occasional week on board a floating buffet table.  Yeah, the food is the biggest attraction for me.  Sue me.  So, at her urging, I agreed to go, even though it was being held in a city an hour away.

We sat through the presentation, and declined to purchase.  We’ve been through these things many times before, since I am a timeshare owner, and I regularly get solicited to upgrade my week or buy another week somewhere else.  The bribes that I accept are normally cash – one hundred FRNs via VISA or AmEx gift card seems to be the average, but I have gotten accommodations in the past as well.  I never had a problem, so, being the dumbass that I am, I believed them.

Of course, we would have to  pay the taxes and port fees, but the remainder was to be gratis.  Yeah, right. Like I said.  Dumbass.

We had to send in the registration form that they gave us after the presentation with a deposit ($299 per person for the cruise and $50 per person for the airline tickets) to be applied to the aforementioned taxes, within thirty days.  We did.

Then we got a form from the company contracted by the sponsor (whose name I do not recall, since they kept the solicitation postcard) that we had to fill out and return within twenty-one days requesting our desired travel dates. The company handling the travel is Infinity Incentive Group, and they also use the name Perfect Select Vacations and Fantasea Cruise.

First, I’d like to direct your attention to the deadlines.  Don’t return the initial voucher within 30 days?  Your vacation is void, and they get to keep the money paid by the sponsor.  Don’t return the second form with your travel dates within 21 days?  Your vacation is void, and they keep the sponsor’s money and your deposit.  Well, the fuckers missed me on those two. I read and followed their instructions.

The travel request form?  Yeah, you have to pick three different dates and destinations, the first one at least 90 days out, and the second and third dates at least 30 days after your first and second requested dates.  Again, instructions just complex/restrictive enough to catch a few more dimwits who aren’t paying attention and give them an excuse to keep your money.

They sent a cover letter with the Travel Request Form.  It said that they would charge a minimum of $79-251 per person at the time of confirmation for the cruise, and $90-189 per person (minus the $50 per person deposit) for the airline tickets.  Notice that they did not mention that the deposit in the amount quoted for the cruise.  I took this to mean that they were going to charge this much in addition to the $598 deposit that they already had.

OK, now I’m pissed.  I’ve cruised before, and I know how much the port charges and taxes are for seven day cruises to the destinations that these assholes offered.  If they told the truth about the taxes and port charges, they would have owed me part of the deposit back.

To confirm this, I logged on to Orbitz and priced the first destination on their list for the first scheduled sailing after the mandatory 90-day wait, on the first cruise line on the list.  The total cost for two people was $871.02.  How much of that was taxes and port charges?  $173.02.

So, these bastards, instead of refunding the difference, were going to charge me at least $158 in addition to the $598 that they already had, for a total of $746.  That’s the minimum.  It could have been as much as $1,100.  For a fucking cruise that I can buy from an online travel agency for $871.

I don’t fucking think so.  I checked their terms and conditions regarding cancellation, and followed their instructions to the letter.  I barely had enough time to send it back to meet the deadline, but I made it.  This was early September.  Sent via Certified Mail, so I know exactly when they got it.  And they know that I know exactly when they got it.

Roomie wanted to use the airline tickets to go to Kalifornistan.  She has some sort of attachment to the Malibu area.  Don’t ask me why.  I hate the state.  They are no longer part of the United States (check out their gun laws before you disagree), and I left an ex-wife in in the northern part of the state.  I hate it when she talks me into accompanying her out there.  Anyway, I checked ticket prices, and found that we could save a few dollars (albeit not a whole lot) even if they charged the maximum amount stated in the letter.

So, I followed their complex instructions, which included a time limit and sending in copies of IDs for both passengers with the form.  We requested travel dates in January, March and April to LAX, ONT and BUR.  LAX is easy and cheap to fly into.  Ontario only slightly less so.  Burbank was a bit of a stretch, but it was our third choice.  There are daily commercial flights in and out of there, so it met the requirements.  Two weeks later, we got a letter from them.

Unfortunately, we are unable to process your chosen dates.  We have no available allotment for that timeframe.   

You mean to fucking tell me that you can’t get me two tickets from a major eastern airport into LAX in the middle of January?  Bull.  Fucking.  Shit.  This is when I start to think that I’ve been scammed.  I refuse to send in another request form, just to have them tell me the same fucking thing over and over again until the 12-month travel window expires.  I checked the cancellation procedures for the airline tickets, and again barely make it under the wire with my request.

They promise that if all procedures are properly followed, that refund checks will be mailed within eight weeks.  They received the cruise cancellation request on September 10, 2011.  I called them in mid-November to ask why I hadn’t received my check.

We didn’t process your request until September 26, 2011.  The check is scheduled to go out the week of Thanksgiving.  

Uh, the post office says that you received it on the tenth of the month.

Well, our system shows that it was processed on the twenty-sixth.  Your check will go out the week of Thanksgiving.  

I swallowed some really nasty comments, and asked about the airline refund, which was received in early October.  They had the right date on that one, and promised a second check in mid-December.

Well, mid-December rolled around, and of course I had not received a check.  I called to ask why.

We see that it has been over eight weeks since your request.  I don’t know why they haven’t been mailed yet.  I will put in a request to accounting, and they should cut and mail both checks this week. 

I’m seething with rage at this point, but manage to maintain my composure.  I thank her, and politely terminate the call.

Three weeks later, 2012 is here.  But no check.  I called to ask why.  This time I decided to try a different tactic.  I had a sob story prepared for when they gave me yet another excuse as to why the checks hadn’t been mailed.

Of course, I got to use my sob story.

I lost my job last month (not really, it was in 2009) and am working part-time at BigBoxRetailer to keep the lights on.  I’m late on the rent (I own the place free and clear) and I really need this money as soon as possible.

I’ll put in an emergency request for you, and I’ll call you back within 48 hours and let you know what Accounting says.  

The next day, she leaves a message on the machine, telling me that the checks have been cut and mailed.

Yeah, right.  I’ll believe it when they get here.

Well, yesterday, they showed up.  With the restriction that they were void after 30 days.  They never give up, do they?

The checks were drawn on Wells Fargo bank.  I don’t bank with them, but there is a branch in my town.  I headed right out this morning to cash those fuckers.  I refused to take the chance that they didn’t have money in the account to cover them, or that they would accelerate the 30 days, or find some other bullshit reason to bounce the checks and screw me out of MY FUCKING MONEY that they have been sitting on for FIVE FUCKING MONTHS at this point.

And the shitheads at Wells Fargo insisted on charging me seven dollars and fifty cents to cash the checks because I don’t have an account with them.  I hate banks with a passion, but that is a story for another day.  I paid the damn fee, took my cash, and damn near sprinted out of the building.

If you ever find yourself with a vacation package with the name Infinity Incentive Group or Perfect Select Vacations on it, RUN LIKE HELL.  If it doesn’t have these names on it (my initial voucher did not) but goes to post office box 3479 in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, RUN LIKE HELL.  Learn from my stupidity.  Google and learn from the stupidity of others as well.

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4 Responses to TANSTAAFL

  1. nancykrainz says:

    Wow! What an ordeal!!! Fortunately, I do not relish traveling so would never fall prey to this particular scam (which you cleverly wiggled out of, I might add), however, there are countless other scams out there to trip up anyone and everyone they can.

    • alaskan454 says:

      I’m only out the gas I burned going to/from the presentation in the first place, the multiple Certified Mail fees (used at every step during the process), the $7.50 that Wells Fargo charged, and the years off of my life from the stress and rage along the way. Not insignificant, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. I’m calling it a win.

  2. Akgrrrl says:

    Wow, thanks for the heads up!

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